Anthropologie & Co.: The Expansion of Shabby Chic

May 24, 2017

Named after the study of human societies and culture, with a delightful French twist, Anthropologie is changing the game when it comes to retail. With Anthropologie’s mix of wonderfully chic clothing, one-of-a-kind housewares, and simply sweet stationery, it’s easy to see why Britton Marketing & Design Group’s creative team views this charming women’s chain as a must-see, must-do for feminine finds and design inspiration.

Since opening its doors, in 1992, Anthropologie (a.k.a “Anthro”) has offered women an alluring selection of elegant dresses, monogrammed gifts, lightly scented milled soaps, heavenly feminine eau de parfums, and much, much more. From designer Liebeskind handbags to hand-painted ramekins, the retailer has succeeded in creating an in-store lifestyle experience unlike any other. With each store strategically blueprinted to have shoppers flow from room to room, it’s guaranteed that every woman will discover a place “for her to lose—and find—herself.” It’s a place of feminine tranquility. A place of meticulous craftsmanship. And the ultimate haven of whimsical sophistication.

Yet with more than 200 stores established, the 24-year-old retailer is taking leaps and bounds to expand on its already captivating brand image. It seems that despite its multiple product categories and spacious store layouts, company leaders have forecasted a wider opportunity for growth.

Beauty in Authenticity

Now, take a stroll through your nearest store and you may wonder, How do they do it? and What more could a girl ask for? Well, we’ll tell you. But first, let’s look at how Anthro has positioned itself to be the one-stop shop for women.

The Philadelphia-based retailer blossomed out of current chairman, president, and CEO Richard Hayne’s college education. Hayne affectionately named Anthropologie after his undergraduate degree from Lehigh University. While there, he concepted sister brand Urban Outfitters, which was originally established to provide on-trend boho clothing to students on campus. However, it was one of Hayne’s friends who helped him realize that he could tap into the market of women who were graduating (so to speak) from free-spirited style and searching for attire that exuded ladylike elegance.

Thus, Anthro was brought into existence—with the intent to cater toward middle-aged, affluent, design-minded women. However, years later, the store has managed to broaden its consumer base, now attracting more millennials than ever before. So what is it that makes browsing this boutique-like retailer both intoxicating and fascinating?

Perhaps it’s the carefully crafted store displays. After all, I’ve never been one to shop a white chino jumpsuit, but as I spot the stylish ensemble tailored perfectly to the mannequin, I’m tempted to see if it would flatter me just as beautifully. And suddenly, I imagine myself walking along a SoCal beach, feeling the cool breeze that sweeps across the shoreline. Then, just like that, I’m sold. One look and I’ve already created my own lifestyle narrative. Who knew a storefront could be so powerfully persuasive?

But this is where the magic truly lies. Anthro has learned to capture the enchanting essence of its stores and allow shoppers to picture themselves in an alternate reality. Missy Peltz, Anthropologie’s chief creative officer, confirmed this. She said the brand tries to emit “eclectic, rustic, modern” to shoppers that pass by, hoping to lure them with the intricate physical details that lead to a fantasy universe. Peltz also said they believe in the “romantic notion that people still want to be inspired.”

“We want to immerse the customer in a complete experience by appealing to all of her senses. Our aesthetic is authentic and approachable,” Peltz added. “It is not pristine or precious, which at times can be intimidating. We want the customer to always feel welcomed.”

And it’s this welcoming sentiment that comes through every window carefully concepted by visual merchandisers and local artists. This extends to cutting out paper squares, which are then hand-painted to give the allusion of actual bricks. Or hanging strings of dyed-green zip ties that act as faux spruce branches. Despite the meticulous technique necessary to create visual elements, display coordinators are given a tight budget of $5,000—and often just a week’s preparation before a reveal. That in itself is a real work of wonder.

With each store strategically blueprinted to have shoppers flow from room to room, it’s guaranteed that every woman will discover a place “for her to lose—and find—herself.”

Nonetheless, maybe it truly is the store’s radiating authenticity that makes it a retail gemstone—its ability to project a distinct personality. Anthropologie’s corporate display coordinator, Erika Lavinia, claims the brand is authentic in the way that it consistently revolves around one key distinction: femininity. She told Racked, “We can be modern, abstract, minimal organic, and many other things, but we are alwaysfeminine.”

With this in mind, Anthro is now putting itself to the test. Its recent additions of subsidiary brands are challenging today’s retail problem to keep shoppers coming back to brick-and-mortar stores. As e-commerce continues to flourish, big-box icons like Macy’s, JCPenney, and Nordstrom are being forced to close their doors.

So how exactly does Anthro plan to stay one step ahead as a retail warrior? And can it maintain its original core values through continual expansion? Only time will tell. But thus far, the URBN-owned brand is opening a new chapter, allowing for a delightfully fresh revolution.

Three Times the Charm

In its quest for development, Anthro didn’t just go big. It went really big. Three times bigger, to be exact. While most current stores measure at 7,000 square feet, the new mini-like department stores reach up to 30,000 square feet. This extra square footage was intended to help widen the categories of in-store merchandise, and was deemed necessary by brand executives who saw overall retail sales continue to fall flat. It’s hoped that with greater growth come more shoppers, from even greater distances.

The first two flagship stores opened in Portland, Oregon, and Newport Beach, California. Recent unveilings have followed at the King of Prussia Mall, just outside Philadelphia, and at installments in Palo Alto, California, and Westport, Connecticut. Additional plans are underway for at least 30 more locations.

Many have described the new experience like a walk through the Anthro catalog.

The innovative concept includes recent brand additions of BHLDN, merchandise tailored for alternative offerings in the wedding market, and Terrian, a home and gardening offshoot. When established, both brands seemed to be a natural evolution of their parent store. The aesthetic, the mind-set, and the apparel all flowed seamlessly together. And with such came the need for a refreshed, cohesive name: Anthropologie & Co.

But before purchasing retail space and building out, Anthro figured it was best to test the newfound store concept with randomized shoppers who offered an unbiased opinion. An URBN-owned Navy-shipyard building on the brand’s campus in Philadelphia served as the mock store. For one day, Anthro invited some of its best customers from the NYC and Washington DC markets. URBN CEO David McCreight said, “We didn’t tell them what was going on—just had them walk through and give feedback. The way they lit up, we knew we had something.”

Many have described the new experience like a walk through the Anthro catalog. It’s as if the pages have come to life, and it’s staged to help you visualize the clothing, the home goods, the lifestyle—all in your own way. Indeed, it seems the phrase “bigger is better” sums it up quite nicely. The vast new offerings of furniture (with 12 full-scale rooms and design consultations), beauty (with more than 800 products), shoes (with more than 50 brands), petites, intimates, accessories, and décor all allow for a greater richness and depth to the overarching Anthropologie brand.

Both BHLDN and Terrian have lived online since launching in 2011 and 2008, but Anthro executives believed it was time to incorporate product offerings into some of the brand’s major markets. BHLDN has moved into stand-alone storefronts, but Bridget Weishaar, retail analyst for investment research and management firm Morningstar, said her company predicted Anthro’s success of having “stores within a store.” “In our opinion, each brand has a distinct, well-defined concept that transcends product type and functionality,” she wrote. “The stores are carefully curated to offer a niche customer a one-stop shopping experience from apparel to home goods.”

Oliver Chen, managing director with financial services firm Cowen and Company, reaffirmed the retailer’s smart move: “Building on categories outside of apparel, such as home, beauty, jewelry, and intimates, makes a lot of sense. It means diversification and risk management because apparel is so fashion-sensitive, and it makes for a shopping experience that’s enhanced.”

There is no doubt that the motivation behind Anthropologie & Co. was to have women feel as if they could spend an entire afternoon perusing every nook and cranny, daydreaming how to bring their very own fairy tale back home. With two floors filled with ethereal gowns, fresh succulents, and a full-fledged design center, there’s no way to linger for less than one hour. It seems to be part of a strategy, mastering destination retail that not only attracts foot traffic but that also compels the customer to carry on shopping for more than a few minutes.

There is no doubt that the motivation behind Anthropologie & Co. was to have women feel as if they could spend an entire afternoon perusing every nook and cranny, daydreaming how to bring their very own fairy tale back home.

Still, what distinguishes each store are the unique, special collections specific to each location—and the emphasis on local talent. For instance, Palo Alto displays works from Oakland’s Creative Growth (a center serving artists with physical, developmental, and mental handicaps), as well as kitchenware and pottery by San Francisco artists Jen Garrido and Susan Hall. In addition, Palo Alto is one of the first stores to feature Anthropologie’s restaurant experience, Terrian Cafe, with a menu curated by award-winning Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri.

Divisional merchandise manager Chris Stoz said, “While the structure is roughly the same in all stores, our room vignettes feature different merchandise depending on the market.” At Walnut Creek, the atmosphere resembles an extravagant California bungalow, with reclaimed whitewashed wood, hand-plastered wall finishes, and an antique French pharmacy stationed in the beauty section. While in Portland, the feel is a bit more moody and nature-driven, and a bright and breezy vibe reflects the coast in Newport Beach.

Dana Telsey, CEO of the Telsey Advisory Group, said, “Everyone is talking about how to differentiate and distinguish their brands, and lifestyle is the way they’re doing it. There are not going to be a lot of these large-format stores. Instead, they’re going to be halos for the brand.”

The Next Need-to-Know Department Store?

Perhaps Anthro will prove that brick-and-mortar can still be king, and that bigger really is better. However, I still wonder, Will the extra square footage be well worth the investment? and Will this model reign as the new every-woman’s department store?

Thus far, the raw excitement that’s been witnessed at each location seems to say so. McCreight said, “I can tell you in my almost 30 years in retail, I have never seen such an enthusiastic customer response.” To know customers are traveling the distance to experience the new stores first-hand makes the new venture even more positive to Anthro executives. It is gaining attention not only from new customers but also from reactivated and existing customers. Tyler Ingle, visual special projects manager, remarked on the eagerness to “finally provide the kind of elevated service our customers have come to expect. These things all bring the brand to life even more for her.”

Could more be in store for the ultrafeminine design-lover’s dream? With furniture retailer West Elm now making its mark on hotel development, a similar concept has been examined for Anthropologie. Yet McCreight continues to shoot down this theory. “We’d rather have a more curated experience, where we control most of it,” he said. Given the overwhelming, optimistic response with the brand’s recent venture, one can’t argue.

Still, talks are in play to put a stamp on Europe. And with a location now open in London, there’s undoubtedly more uncharted territory for this retail extraordinaire to explore.

Photos: Shutterstock

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